Week 7, Day 0

I can already tell, I’m going to really miss this place. Riding around today to yoga, church and a farmers’ market, it occurred to me that this may be the ultimate (or penultimate) time I do some of these things. I like Chicago. I’ve already looked into how to get Ellie back home. It can be done. You can’t just  leave your adventuring partner alone in a far off city.

Prior to heading out for the day today, I bumped into this article, the first in a series. It is about the lack of men in Christian (Catholic and other denominations) churches. I didn’t have time to read the whole article before leaving, but the thought stuck in my head as I entered Our Lady of Good Counsel Church this morning.

Technically, it is the same parish as I attended last week, when I was at Saint’s Peter and Paul Church last week. Along with Saint Maurice Church, the three comprise Blessed Sacrament Parish, and are all located within about half a mile of each other as the crow flies. The same priest presided over both masses. I didn’t see what the atmosphere was like before mass last week (I forgot to factor in time for parking), but given the atmosphere after that mass, I suspect it was different from what I saw today. A block and a half can make a difference.

One of the first things I noticed today was a lot of casual conversation between groups of people before mass started (I was a few minutes early today, go Ellie!). I realized that I hadn’t really noticed that at any other church I’ve been at here in Bridgeport. It was definitely a hallmark of St Catherine’s of Siena Church in West Seneca, NY, where I grew up. It varies from church to church, but is mostly non-existent, since many congregations (or their leaders) opt to keep the church space quiet before (and some, after) mass.  I understand the dilemma:

  • Quiet allows people a moment of peace to center themselves before the service, and sometimes (almost certainly more often that I’m comfortable with) the chatter is harmful gossip.
  • Socializing, on the other hand, allows people to catch up with each other, and may act as an enticement to actually GO to church and to bond people together.

There should be a way to do both, but the physical space for most churches is not set up very well for that, the narthex (I really just wanted to use that word, though I am dubious of its etymology: the architectural feature is allegedly so called from fancied resemblance to a hollow stem of a giant fennel) is quite small.

I sat too far forward to get an accurate count of the number of men and women, but I’d estimate that there was about a four to one ratio of women to men. As I think back, this is not uncommon. I’m slightly appalled that the same person who notices the deficit of women artists at the Art Institute of Chicago in one trip missed the lack of men in church every week. I noticed some of the details, like the number of families that show up without the father on a regular basis at my home parish in Connecticut, but missed the overall pattern.

Call me an aeolist, but something has to change here, and I’m not sure what it is. Given the summer I’ve had, things I learned before the summer, and witnessed at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church this week, I think having more women (including mothers) in leadership roles would be a good step forward. Even if we assume the best of intentions of an all male leadership, there are going to be things they miss simply because they are male and have only male experiences to guide their decision making. Women simply bring a different perspective. I noticed that all of the roles, except priest, at OLGC were filled by women. There was one Eucharistic minister in particular who seemed like the kind of person I’d like to meet. Why? Simply because while she was up on the altar, the (very young, maybe eight years old) altar boy made a simple mistake, and she smiled to let him know he forgot something. She helped him to make sure everything that needed to be done was. Her smile told him that his mistake was no big deal, and that he should try again (I bet she was a teacher). I have seen quite the opposite reaction from adults in similar circumstances many times – chastising the child as if the error was an intentional slight, so I was really happy to see this. After the mass, I saw her greet at least four or five families with hugs and well wishes. I left thinking, “This is the kind of leadership the church needs.”

I ended the day with my roommate at the Chicago Hot Dog Fest, a fundraiser for the Chicago History Museum. Given that the hot dogs were all supplied by Vienna Beef, I wondered what the point of having more than a dozen vendors was. I found out: toppings. (Warning! Karen E., if you are reading, you may wish to skip the rest. It’s not going to be pretty.) You can get hot dogs with all kinds of gourmet toppings, with one notable exception: ketchup. They don’t put ketchup on hot dogs here. There wasn’t too much of a line at Chubby Weiners, so we ate there. I ate a thing called a Momona (which, now that I have the interwebs, I can tell you is either a small town in New Zealand, or urban slang for something that is large. I will leave it to you to decide in this case). It has grilled pineapple, bleu cheese, bacon and citrus-chipotle barbecue sauce. It was really good.

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